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Understanding Your Blood Test

Triglycerides

Food for Thought

Omega-3 fats—the kind found in salmon, sardines, and fish oil supplements—are a great, non-prescription way to help lower your triglycerides. If you want to try supplements, best talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian first.

The triglyceride level is yet another reading. You want your triglycerides to be under 150 mg/dL because higher levels can contribute to heart disease. If your triglycerides are 150–199 mg/dL, that's borderline-high; if they are 200–499 mg/dL, they're high; and a reading of 500 mg/dL or more is considered extremely high.

People with high blood triglycerides usually have lower HDL cholesterol and a

higher risk of heart attack and, indirectly, of stroke. Furthermore, many people with high triglycerides have underlying diseases or genetic disorders. If this applies to you, the main therapy is to change your lifestyle by controlling your weight; eating foods low in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats (choose monounsaturated fats instead); exercising regularly; not smoking; and drinking little to no alcohol. Because carbs raise triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol, your doctor may also tell you to limit your intake of refined sugar and total carbohydrates to no more than 40–50 percent of total calories.

Homocysteine

There's a lot of interest today in this sulfur-containing amino acid. That's because clinical studies have shown that having an elevated level of homocysteine can damage blood vessel walls and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Factors that contribute to elevated homocysteine levels include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive coffee drinking, a sedentary life lifestyle, and a deficiency of folate and/or vitamins B-6 and B-12. What's more, medications that interfere with the absorption of folate and vitamins B-6 and B-12 can lead to increased homocysteine levels.

Generally speaking, men tend to have higher homocysteine levels than women the same age. And in women, homocysteine levels often increase after menopause, which can lead to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, homocysteine increases with impaired metabolism of homocysteine by the kidney. For this reason, total homocysteine levels are much higher in patients with chronic kidney disease.

Normal homocysteine levels range from 5–16 mg/dL. But optimally you should strive for an upper limit of 10 mg/dL, which you can achieve by eating foods loaded with folic acid, and vitamins B-6 and B-12.

If you've been diagnosed with an elevated homocysteine level, the most simple and effective treatment is to take a supplemental dose of folic acid with an additional B-complex. But deciding on the recommended supplemental dose can be tricky, so speak with your personal physician.

C-Reactive Protein

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein produced primarily in the liver that is released into the bloodstream when there is inflammation anywhere in your body. Normally, there is little to no CRP in the blood, but if you have a cut, infection, or certain inflammatory diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis), levels can become elevated.

Food for Thought

Women, take note: CPR levels may be elevated in late pregnancy or if you take oral contraceptives.

So—where does CRP fit in when it comes to heart disease, you might ask? Well, it has been known for some time now that inflammation plays a key role in just about every stage of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)— from plaque formation, to the rupture of those plaques, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. CRP may also be an independent risk factor for the development of hypertension, which further increases your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke. And to make matters worse, if you have high CRP levels you may have more trouble lowering your blood cholesterol through diet than someone with low CRP levels.

Okay—so now that you know how bad CRP is, you probably want to know what you can do to keep your levels nice and low (that's below 1.0 mg/dL). I hate to sound like a broken record, but here goes: lose weight if you are overweight, quit smoking if you smoke, and exercise, exercise, exercise!

In terms of diet, it's probably best to follow an overall heart-smart diet. In other words—avoid trans and saturated fats, increase omega-3 fat intake (salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, fish oil supplements), and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to fruits and veggies, the richer the color the better. Colorful plants tend to have the most antioxidants, which are great at clearing out the nasty free radicals that are produced when inflammation is present in the body. One more thing you can do to keep your CRP levels low is to practice good oral hygiene. Flossing and brushing regularly reduces the risk of gum disease, which is a source of chronic inflammation.

Blood Pressure

One out of every four American adults (nearly 60 million people) has high blood pressure, which is known as the “silent killer” because it kind of creeps up without any warning. High blood pressure can greatly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. As your heart beats, blood is pumped into your arteries, creating a pressure within them. When too much pressure is placed on the artery walls, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is the result. Over time, your arteries can be so damaged by such constant pressure that the end result could be a heart attack, brain attack (stroke), or kidney disease.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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